Before a parliamentary vote on a new surveillance bill in Paris, WikiLeaks has published a report on how the US National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on three French Presidents. French President Hollande says US espionage is “unacceptable” and called an emergency meeting for Wednesday.
WikiLeaks published a series of documents allegedly proving how the NSA spied on the last three French presidents. WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said he was confident that the documents were authentic, noting that WikiLeaks’ disclosures had previously proved to be correct.
The revelations were first reported in the French daily newspaper, “Liberation” and on the news website, “Mediapart,” which said the NSA had spied on the presidents during a period of at least from 2006 until May 2012 – the month when French President Francois Hollande took over from Nicolas Sarkozy. President Hollande announced that he would convene a defence council meeting on Wednesday morning over the reports.
The White House responded late on Tuesday by saying that it is not currently monitoring Hollande’s communications.
“We are not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande,” said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, without addressing what might have been done in the past.
In general terms, Price said that “we do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike.” He described the French as “indispensable partners.”
Hollande calls defense council meeting
“The president has decided to hold a defense council meeting Wednesday morning at 9am to evaluate the nature of the information published by the press on Tuesday evening and to draw useful conclusions,” an undisclosed presidential aide told AFP.
There was no immediate comment from the White House nor from the offices of the two French presidential predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, who were reportedly also targeted by the eavesdropping campaign.
The documents also contained the cell phone numbers of numerous officials in the Elysee presidential palace, including the direct cell phone of the French president, WikiLeaks said, and added that French readers could “expect more timely and important revelations in the near future.
The WikiLeaks release came a day before the French Parliament was expected to most likely pass a surveillance bill, legalizing broad surveillance measures of terrorism suspects, including allowing intelligence services to vacuum up metadata in hopes of preventing imminent attacks. WikiLeaks appears to have timed the publication of the documents to coincide with the parliamentary vote in order to draw attention to privacy issues.
First Merkel, now Hollande?
Whistleblower Edward Snowden had revealed in 2013 that secret NSA surveillance had included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he said had been wiretapped by the US spy agency. After the Merkel disclosures, US President Barack Obama ordered a detailed review of NSA spying on ally states, after which officials had claimed that such spying procedures had been halted. Reforms to US espionage practices continue to take place.
Last week, WikiLeaks published more than 60,000 diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia and said on its website it would release half a million more in the coming weeks.
France: US espionage ‘unacceptable’ – Hollande
France “won’t tolerate” security threats, President Francois Hollande said after reports of NSA spying. According to WikiLeaks, three presidents were monitored, discussing the Middle East, Greece and even US spying.
The WikiLeaks reports reflect “unacceptable facts that have already arisen between the US and France,” French President Hollande said in a statement Wednesday.
“Commitments were made by the US authorities. They need to be recalled and strictly respected,” Hollande said, following an emergency meeting with his top security officials.
Hollande had called for the meeting in response to WikiLeaks publishing a series of documents, allegedly demonstrating American spying on the last three French presidents. The documents, published late Tuesday, allegedly contain conversations intercepted by NSA.
France’s foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador to discuss the disclosures, diplomatic sources told AFP after Wednesday’s meeting.
“France will not tolerate actions that threaten its security and the protection of its interests,” Hollande said.
Meeting with Merkel “for show”
The WikiLeaks notes, classified as “Top Secret,” seemingly reveal that the NSA eavesdropped on Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande from 2006 to 2012.
According to one of the documents, Hollande “approved holding secret meetings in Paris to discuss the eurozone crisis, particularly the consequences of a Greek exit from the eurozone”, as early as 2012, and only days after taking office. The secret meeting between Hollande, then-Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and selected ministers was to give “special emphasis” to effects on French economy and French banks, the WikiLeaks excerpt says.
The same 2012 note also points out Hollande’s complaints after talking about Greece with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, claiming Hollande felt that: “nothing of substance was achieved; it was purely for show,” and that Merkel “had given up and was unwilling to budge” on Greece.
“This made Hollande very worried for Greece and the Greek people, who might react by voting for an extremist party,” according to the excerpts.
In addition, the NSA note claims that the French president went behind Merkel’s back to arrange a meeting in Paris with members of the Social Democrats shortly after winning the election, which were Germany’s main opposition party at the time. During the 2012 French campaign, Merkel had in turn faced criticism for appearing with incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy – who went on to lose – on the campaign trail.
The US had also eavesdropped on Hollande’s predecessors Sarkozy, and Jacques Chirac before him, according to the WikiLeaks disclosures.
A note from 2010 says that Sarkozy intended “to raise a number of sensitive topics with the US President” expressing his frustration on the US refusing to sign an espionage pact. French officials believed that “the main sticking point is the US desire to continue spying on France,” the alleged NSA report says.
Another document on Sarkozy describes his determination to restart the Middle East peace process “in spite of an apparent lack of interest on the part of some major players.” Sarkozy also allegedly considered “appealing to Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev for a possible joint initiative without the United States.”
On Wednesday, an aide to Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy told the Associated Press that the former president considers these methods unacceptable, especially from an ally. In addition, Hollande’s Socialist Party issued a statement saying that the reports suggest “a truly stupefying state paranoia.”